The departure of all-star gymnast Simone Biles from the women's gymnastics team final could be a warning for brands not to bet sponsorship dollars on one athlete—although Gap Inc. is backing the decision by its star endorser to put her mental health first.
“We stand by Simone and support her well-being both in and out of competition,” Kyle Andrew, chief brand officer for Gap’s Athleta line, said Tuesday in a statement. “Being the best also means knowing how to take care of yourself. We are inspired by her leadership today and are behind her every step of the way.”
Those involved with the turbulent Tokyo Olympics have come to expect the unexpected, but the sudden exit of Biles is one of the games’ most significant surprises yet, leaving her teammates to soldier on without her. The move followed her first rotation on the floor with the American women’s team, after which Biles’ name was struck from the competitor list. USA Gymnastics said in a brief statement this morning that the Olympian had “withdrawn from the team final competition due to a medical issue.”
Shortly after though, 24-year-old Biles told reporters in Tokyo that her exit was not injury-related, but rather due to mental health reasons—something the Rio 2016 gold medal winner, and survivor of convicted sex offender and ex-team doctor Larry Nassar’s abuse, has spoken openly about before. (Asked by the New York Times about the happiest moment of her career in a pre-Olympics interview, Biles responded “Honestly, probably my time off.”)
“This is just another example that there are no sure things in sports and that sponsors need to continuously weigh the risks and returns of aligning with a single athlete, as opposed to a team or league, which also carry their own concerns,” says David Carter, sports business professor at the University of Southern California, and founder of marketing consultancy Sports Business Group.